Big Kids Need Vaccinations, Too
Your early years of parenting were likely filled with visits to the pediatrician for checkups, and for vaccinations to guard your children against serious diseases. You may have even thought those days would be over once you sent your kids to kindergarten. But that's not so - school-age kids need vaccinations, too.
Doctors can only give certain vaccinations to older children while other vaccines need updating, since most vaccinations only offer protection for a limited time.
Why Are Vaccines Important?
A vaccine is made from very small amounts of weak or dead germs that can cause diseases — for example, viruses, bacteria or toxins. A vaccine prepares your body to fight the disease faster and more effectively, reducing the likelihood that you will get sick.
Without vaccinations, kids have no natural immunity or defense against these potentially fatal diseases, said Tonja Austin, MD, family medicine doctor with Franciscan Physician Network in Frankfort, Illinois.
“Vaccination is a way to build up the body’s natural immunity to a disease so that if you are ever exposed to a disease your body can fight it off without ever being sick,” Dr. Austin said.
Why Do Schools Require Vaccines?
Vaccine schedules and recommendations are provided by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which provide ongoing surveillance of vaccine preventable infection patterns and outbreaks.
“Most highly contagious vaccines are spread indoors due to increased frequency of close contact and via respiratory droplets,” Dr. Austin said. “Schools are large indoor communities and hence perfect breeding grounds for outbreaks of highly contagious diseases such as measles, whooping cough and chicken pox.”
What Vaccinations Does My School-Age Child Need?
There are four vaccinations that children ages four and older need. Additional vaccinations may be required vaccines for school-age children in your state. Find vaccination requirements in Indiana and required vaccines for school in Illinois.
The meningococcal vaccine is the shot that fends off bacterial meningitis. Meningitis is a life-threatening infection of the lining that surrounds the brain and spinal cord.
Teens and young adults ages 16 to 23 are at an increased risk of contracting meningitis. Even with treatment, meningitis kills about 10 percent of those it infects and causes severe disabilities to another 10 percent.
The CDC recommends a meningitis vaccine (meningococcal vaccination) for all preteens and teens. In certain situations, CDC also recommends other children and adults get a meningococcal vaccine.
Adolescents and teens in Indiana and Illinois are required to receive the meningitis vaccination in two doses: usually once at age 11 and again at age 16.
Perhaps best known as "the flu shot," the influenza vaccine defends your child from the most common strains of flu that cause symptoms such as muscle aches, fatigue and sore throat.
The vaccine is updated to protect against whichever flu strains are thought to be most prevalent each year. That means your child should get an annual flu shot around October or November. That's the beginning of flu season, when the illness will usually start circulating around your child’s school. But don't wait until school age to protect your child with a flu shot.
“It is best to get a flu shot before flu season begins to allow your immune system ample opportunity to develop its natural immunity or defense after vaccination,” Dr. Austin said. “Flu season usually begins in November of one year and ends in March of the following year. Peaks or increases in the number of people infected with flu are usually in December and March.”
The influenza vaccine is safe for children over six months of age and was proven in a study to significantly reduce a child’s risk of dying from influenza.
- Diphtheria is a disease that affects your throat and makes it hard to breathe.
- A tetanus infection causes your muscles to tighten or lock and can lead to a painful condition called lockjaw (where you can't open your jaw to eat or drink).
- Pertussis, or whooping cough, causes violent coughing spells that make it difficult to catch your breath.
Around ages 11 or 12, your child should get the booster shot called Tdap. This booster shot is required for students in Indiana and Illinois.
“Some vaccines are needed more than once because your body needs to be reminded to continue to maintain its natural immunity or protection from these infections. In essence, it needs to be reminded to continue to make antibodies for life-long protection,” said Dr. Austin.
Human Papillomavirus Vaccination
Human papillomavirus (HPV) is a common virus that's spread through sexual contact. In both men and women the HPV virus can cause genital warts and lead to cancers including throat, penile and cervical cancers.
Boys and girls should get the vaccination around the age of 11 or 12, but you can start the series as early as age 9. Your pediatrician will give your child two shots spaced six to 12 months apart.
According to the CDC, children who start the vaccine series on or after their 15th birthday need three shots given over 6 months. If your teen hasn’t gotten the vaccine yet, talk to his/her doctor about getting it as soon as possible.
Vaccinations Save Lives
Vaccinations are important for several different reasons including
- To avoid diseases from coming back
- To prevent diseases from traveling (because we travel)
- To help protect those who are not able to be vaccinated due to age (infants under the age of 2) or other medical conditions
Be sure to speak with your child's primary care physician about their immunization schedule, discuss any concerns about vaccinations, track your child's vaccinations and keep them up to date. Don't forget to share this information with other parents. Your actions could help save lives.